Jim Siergey: Roger & Me

April 6th, 2021

On April 4, 2013 the revered film critic Roger Ebert passed away. On his blog this April 4 Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg reprinted a moving column he had written about Mr. Ebert’s passing.

Reading it reminded me that I once wrote to Roger Ebert, back when he was alive, of course. I’m not into spiritualism or ouija boards and if I were I don’t think Roger would be the first person I would consider contacting from the vast beyond.

Although, I could choose worse.

I am a great fan of the film The Third Man. I have seen it many times, both in bad prints on the big screen and restored prints. I recommend the restored version. I also own a DVD of the film and even watched it again recently when it was aired on TCM.

I can’t get enough of it.

If you are unfamiliar with it, it is a black and whiter from 1949 directed by Carol Reed, starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles who makes the most dramatic and memorable entrance into a film ever (Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy is a close but distant second). Another star of the film is the zither music of Anton Karas.

I’m getting a bit cine-nerdy here so I shall cease.

jimboutonlonggoodbye

Apropos to nothing–Jim Bouton was in The Long Goodbye…

 

Anyway, I had recently viewed another film I greatly enjoy, The Long Goodbye. It is directed by Robert Altman and stars Elliott Gould. I had always thought that the ending of this film was Altman’s left-handed compliment to the ending of The Third Man.

I had read several reviews of the film but none of them mentioned this concept that I thought was quite obvious. I had come across Roger Ebert’s website so I wrote to him, posing my opinion. Lo and behold, he wrote back! Either that or one of his underlings did but I prefer to think that it was Roger.

In his response, Roger wrote that he had recently viewed the film again because he was including it in his next book of Great Movies and this time he had come to the same conclusion that I did and didn’t know why he didn’t the first time he saw it.

Cynics might say that he had that thought because my email had just put the thought in his head but I shall give the great man the benefit of any doubt.  I always try to be the bigger person.

I’ve never seen the Great Movies volume that includes The Long Goodbye so I don’t know if he gave a nod or a tip o’the hat to me regarding the Third Man connection but I’m sure it’s there in tiny tiny tiny tiny print, found perhaps on the slivery edge of the page.

By the way, if any reader of this stuff I write has not seen either film you would do yourself a favor by doing so. View The Third Man first, of course.

You could choose worse.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last piece for The Third City was A Bad Day

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Jim Siergey: A Bad Day–A Work of Satire

March 20th, 2021

I was awakened suddenly this morning with an intense Charley Horse in my right calf. My attempt to sit up and massage the painfully throbbing cramp was deterred by my being twisted up in my blankets. I kicked and thrashed like a wild man until I was able to get free. I sat on the edge of the bed and kneaded my calf to no avail so I decided to get up to walk it off forgetting that I’d been suffering from a bad back of late and getting out of bed in the morning was the most agonizing part of the day. I couldn’t straighten up and my legs were like stalks of unbendable metal so I was able to only hobble a few steps but then a wave of vertigo hit me and knocked me backwards onto my bed where I cracked my noggin on the headboard.

I could tell right then that it was going to be a bad day.

There was only one way to deal with a bad day—go out and shoot people. That appears to be the accepted remedy. And not just any people. When a white-skinned person is having a bad day he must shoot people of darker skin tones and different facial features. Apparently, that works best.

But I didn’t have a gun. In fact I have never even held a gun much less fired one. How was I to countermeasure this bad day without a weapon? What a quandary.

siergeypotHey, everybody. It’s Jim, telling you–this is satire!

 

I didn’t even have a water pistol. I’m not sure how well that would fix a bad day plus it only holds so much ammo and when empty, people might chase me and with this sore leg and bad back I’d be overtaken easily. That wouldn’t be good.

Time was a’wastin’. If I didn’t move into action pretty soon this bad day was going to get even badder. A headache might join in making it even more of a bad day. Boy, do I hate headaches.

Perhaps if I explained my situation to a policeman he might let me borrow his gun. Maybe he’d even drive me to a church or open market or spa where I could find likely victims…er…remedies. I understand that there are some policemen who are very sympathetic to Caucasians having bad days.

But how could I tell? I wouldn’t want to pick the wrong one and get myself arrested and put into jail. That would make for a really bad day.

Boy, when you don’t have a gun and you’re having a bad day, you feel impotent.  There’s nothing you can do. You’re stuck. You’re forced to suck it up and deal with it, snap out of it and buck up.

Pulling a trigger is so much easier.

I guess  I’ll have to go against the grain and make that extra effort on my own and hope for the best. Sigh. Hey, the sun is shining and I can hear birds. That’s pretty nice. Boy, if I had a gun and was out shooting people I might’ve missed all that. Y’know, maybe, just maybe, if guns weren’t so easily accessible…naaahh, that could never happen.

I think I’ll just go watch some porn. Praise Jesus.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Four Eyes Only. As he may have mentioned already, he wants everyone to know that this piece is satire. Once again–satire!

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Jim Siergey: Four Eyes Only

March 7th, 2021

My energy had begun to flag so I headed toward the washroom to splash some cold water on my face. The door was cracked open so I stealthily entered the darkened room. A pull chain caressed my face enticing me to give it a gentle tug which I did and the room was lit with all the intensity that a greasy 25 watt bulb could emit.

It was a narrow room with several odd angles and filled with a multitude of odds and ends. I felt like I was standing in a junk drawer. I espied my destination in the far corner, a small shallow sink. It stood on one leg and rest of the basin rested on a Butcher Block table next to it.

On the tabletop was an assortment of nuts and bolts, mostly of a rusted nature, an unused pad of faded yellow Post-It notes, a plaid pot holder that had seen better days, an assortment of keys that no longer locked or opened anything and various scraps of damp rags.

I pushed them to the side exposing the buckled seams of the long-neglected Butcher Block, removed my glasses and put them down in the cleared space. I turned on the tap and waited for the brown water to turn clear before splashing the ice cold liquid onto my countenance. It was bracing.

Sufficiently invigorated, I turned off the tap and looked for a towel. Finding none I used the tails of my untucked shirt to dry my face. I reached for my glasses but they weren’t there. I sorted through the items I had moved aside, my fingers picking carefully through them like a cat stepping softly through a bed of nails but they were not to be found.

Plagued by blurry vision, I bent down and looked about the floor where even more detritus lie. I gingerly picked my way through pieces of torn newspaper, bent nails, crooked screws, clots of hair, coffee grounds, talcum powder and mouse droppings. My spectacles were not among this jungle of debris.

I straightened up and scratched my head in befuddlement. Then I heard a voice speak out.

“You lookin’ for something?”

I narrowed my eyes, pointlessly hoping that my squint would bring forth some sort of focus. There beside me was a man sitting on the toilet, pants around his ankles and what looked to be a Reader’s Digest in his hands. Had he been there all along?

Averting my hazy gaze, I explained that I couldn’t find my glasses and, wishing to give the man the privacy he deserved, hurried out the door.

zippysiergey

The Zipster…

 

I found myself in what looked to be a warehouse. I didn’t remember being there before. Had I gone out the wrong door?  How could I? It was such a small room there could not have been two doors. I walked up the narrow aisle and bumped into a folding chair upon which a small man was sitting facing away from me.

“Oh, excuse me.”, I apologized, “ I lost my glasses and can’t see very well.”

“Here.” The seated man said, “Try these. They have magic lenses. They’re advertised on TV.”

I took them from his outstretched hand and put them on. The non-prescriptive lenses did bring things a little more into focus. I had to tilt my head a certain way to make the “magic” work but that may have been because the lenses were scratched and one of the ear pieces was quite loose.

“How they working?” the seated figure asked.

“Not bad.” I replied.

“Ya wanna buy ‘em?”

I politely said no as I handed them back.

He shrugged and said that perhaps I could find some new ones in the room next door. They just received a big shipment of all kinds of things. So off I tottered to the doorway up ahead.

Next door was a room full of bins holding a variety of items. I found one bin that held several pairs of the “magic” glasses. I tried on a pair and the visual result was about the same. I could see a little clearer but the lenses were decorated with a bunch of tiny back dots.

“I have enough floaters of my own”, I thought to myself. “I don’t need to have more.”

Unfortunately, every pair I looked at had some design imprinted on the lenses, tiny hearts, wee whirligigs, scrimshaw-like etchings, candy canes and one with a tiny angel dancing atop Zippy the Pinhead.

Amusing but useless, I put them all back in the bin.

From the next room I heard the muffled sound of a toilet flushing, a door creaking open and a man’s voice saying how much easier it was for him to read the jokes in small print with his new specs.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Regrets

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Jim Siergey: Regrets

February 28th, 2021

Regrets, I’ve had a few. I’ll bet that you do too.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Paul Anka on you. Nor am I going to delve deep into my soul and wrench out all my private regrets and lay them upon this clean white monitor like so much dirty laundry.

I do, however, have one regret that I can finally speak publicly about and it’s a revealed regret that will not make you cringe. Well, it might but at most, it will make you shrug. Whatever, it still eats at me.

Quite a few years ago I had an old wooden chair. It was one of several but they were not a matched set.  The others had the standard square seats but this one in particular had a rounded seat. Over the years, this seat cracked and I eventually removed the shattered remains leaving a chair with a rounded opening. I liked the way it looked.

Here’s where my brainstorm came in.

I would paint the chair red and black, the team colors of the Chicago Bulls. Then I would attach a basketball net to the open seat. Below that I would place an old metal dish pan. Atop the open seat I would attach a toilet seat. Finally, as a coup de grâce I would paint upon the slats of the chair back these words:

“Michael Jordan’s Slam Dump Toilet Training Chair”

Voila!  It’d be an objet d’art! It was amusing, arty in a Marcel Duchamp sort of way and even, dare I say, practical. I actually had an old toilet seat lying around and I already had the dish pan and the chair. All I needed was a basketball net, paint and desire. Oh, and gumption.

That’s what I didn’t have…gumption.

You can tell how long ago it was that I had the idea since I was going to use Michael Jordan’s name. As time passed and my idea remained an idea, I could have painted the chair any color and renamed it something non-dating like “NBA Slam Dump Toilet Trainer”.

But I didn’t.

Eventually we moved and neither the seatless chair nor the toilet seat made the trip. Now, one of the other chairs has a busted seat but it’s a square one so it won’t do. That other chair was perfect.

Alas, that objet d’art does not exist due to my inertia, my laziness, my lack of gumption.

Just think! I could have exhibited it somewhere. It could have caused a stir in the art world. It could have ended up in a museum. Michael Jordan could have heard of it and bought it from me for an obscene amount of money. It could have been manufactured and mass produced. I could have been the Potty Chair King!

Yes, I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of what I am, what a Brit sits on in a Loo.

So, yes, regrets, I’ve had a few. One of them dealt with poo.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Brain Fuel

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Jim Siergey: Brain Fuel

February 21st, 2021

Boy, do we love our caffeine. Many, if not most, of us depend on it.

Once we start the habit, our brains won’t let us quit. At least, not easily. We can’t blame ‘em because after all, we started it. The same with nicotine…and heroin,  I guess. My flirtation with nicotine was youthfully brief and my history with heroin non-existent.

But caffeine. That usage started early. Soda pop was the gateway.

Growing up in the 1950s all of us kids drank soda. My tastes ran more toward root beer than the colas but they entered my bloodstream as well. I never was a fan of orange and grape sodas. Brown was the color of fulfilling liquid ecstasy.

When I was little my parents owned and ran an ice cream parlor and the root beer they served was Frostie. I especially liked it for the snow-covered lettering on the label and the old man with the icy white beard and cap that also adorned it.

Later I learned to love Dad’s Old-Fashioned Root Beer with its catchy theme song that was hypnotically tribal. A & W was another popular brand and, as I mentioned, I didn’t care for orange or grape flavored sodas but Nehi brewed a tasty root beer.

When I was 9 or 10, a new cola appeared in our neck of the woods—Royal Crown Cola. It came in a 16 ounce bottle! It was an intriguing delicacy for us kids. We’d walk or more likely, being boys, run, push and rassle as well, to the neighborhood store (in my neighborhood it was Mazzone’s), stroll to the cooler in back and carry the slender bottle that seemed to be a third of our size, up to the front, plop a dime (I suppose. Candy bars cost a nickel so I guess a bottle of soda cost a dime) on the counter and, licking our lips, wait for the cashier to grab the bottle opener and pop off the cap. Then we would walk carefully down the street, hoisting the magic elixir back and forth from our lips.

frostiesergie

Baby brain fuel…

 

I can’t remember the last time I drank any soda…unless there was alcohol mixed with it. I have replaced soda with coffee.

I began drinking coffee as a young adult and haven’t stopped. When I began working from home, both as a gilder and an animator, I’d go through coffee by the potful. I still have at least two or three cups each morning and then another one or two in the afternoon. I guess you could say I have a donkey on my back.  (as in Juan Valdez)

I’ve heard that people get a “rush” from coffee or get jittery if they drink too much of it. I’ve never experienced either of those conditions but I do know that I need to feed my brain with caffeine.  I found that out the hard way.

A number of years ago my wife and I were in Mexico. We were staying with relatives of friends of ours in the little village of Zacatula. From there we were going to depart and head off to another town, Patzcuaro, some hours away. We were fed breakfast but the only coffee they had was instant and it was caffeine-free Nescafe. I thought it odd that they only had that type of coffee, especially since they imbibed Coca-Cola for breakfast (and lunch and dinner).  So that was what we drank.

A few hours later, while standing in a packed bus (one of several that we had to take to reach our destination), I was suddenly walloped with one of the worst headaches I remember getting.

With apologies to Ignatz and Krazy Kat, it felt like a brick had been flung at my head where it imbedded itself. It took me a while to figure out that the cause of this was lack of caffeine.

So, friends, if you’re riding the caffeine train, be kind to your brain and don’t disembark too suddenly.

Anticipe su bajada.”

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The Willies

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Jim Siergey: The Willies

February 14th, 2021

Ketchup gives me the willies.

Just the sight of it being partaken of makes my skin crawl. I actually shudder. Of course my friends, knowing this, always made a big production out of it, slowly squeezing a slimy-looking line of the red menace atop each french fry and waving it about in front of my face before sliding it into their hideous gobs.

I cannot explain why I react this way. Besides not caring for its taste I must have an aversion to the consistency of the stuff because I don’t care for marinara sauce either. But I like tomatoes. I like ‘em the way they were meant to be eaten—whole, or sliced, not mushed up with sugar and vinegar.

Bleaugh.

I have another confession to make. I stole, well, altered my opening line from Joseph Heller’s novel Something Happened. That book begins with the sentence “Closed doors give me the willies.” I always liked that line.

It is Heller’s second novel , written and published after his brilliant debut, Catch-22. It must have been nearly 40 years ago that I read it.

A lot of it takes place in the world of business, the world of offices, desks, paperwork and suits and ties. It is a world with which I am unfamiliar. I loaned the book to a friend of mine who was in that world. After he had read it and returned it to me he said “I don’t know whether I should laugh or kill myself.”

It’s a pretty powerful book.

somethinghappenedsiergeyHe wrote more than Catch-22…

 

 

So much so that when I was in bed one night reading it, getting close to the end of the 500 plus page novel, something happened in the book that affected me so much that I threw it across the room in anger. Now, a lot of somethings happened in the book but that was a big something and I just couldn’t handle it. It really upset me. The book lay in the corner of the room for two or three days before I finally picked it up. I figured after reading that far I should finish the remaining pages.

As I said, a lot of the book takes place in the world of business, a world of which I am completely unfamiliar. Coincidentally or perhaps, oddly, I have had many a dream in which I was entrenched in the business world.

These dreams are always the same. I am in an office setting filled with people at their desks doing the work I imagine people do in offic es—talking on the phone, using calculators, going through stacks of papers (this dream always takes place in pre-computer days). Sometimes I have a desk and sometimes I do not. Either way I am there as an employee but I have no idea what I am supposed to do. Not a clue. I don’t even know who I’m supposed to ask. Everyone seems too busy to bother plus they don’t even seem to notice me. So, I just try to look busy. If I’m at a desk I fiddle with papers or open and close drawers. If I don’t have a desk, I wander about, attempting to look busy.

It’s a very frustrating dream.

Hmmm. Now I’m no Dr. Freud but it just occurred to me that that dream is symbolic of my life. I have spent an awful lot of it just wandering around, wondering what it is that I am supposed to be doing and trying to look busy.

Saying that, I suppose it would be very easy for me to write that life is a lot like ketchup. That would be a cute ending for this meandering piece but it wouldn’t be true.  I can avoid ketchup.

However, it doesn’t avoid me. Nowadays it’s my granddaughter who taunts me, sloshing her french fries around in a pool of the bloody condiment and sing-songing, “Doesn’t this look gooood, grandpa?  Mmmm, yum.”

The willies.  Bleaugh.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Get Back

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Jim Siergey: Get Back

February 4th, 2021

Lately I have been having issues with my back. It hurts. Shoveling all this snow we have recently gotten hasn’t helped any but it has reminded me of an incident from eleven years ago, almost to the day.

My wife and I had gone to Hawaii. Even better, we have friends there with whom we stayed. Rose is an anthropologist and Jeff is a scientist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  They’ve both lived in Hawaii for decades.

On the second day of our stay we went on a hike to Kaena Point in Oahu. It was about a two hour hike to the Point which is a nature preserve that is set aside for monk seals, albatrosses and a couple of other species that are native to Hawaii.

Just before we reached the Point, we came upon a predator fence that was being constructed. This is one of Jeff’s projects. A similar fence was successfully built in New Zealand to protect particular species that needed protection.

Hawaii’s albatrosses and monk seals have no natural enemies. So, when they are stalked by the feral cats and dogs that roam the island, they just sit there and watch as their young and themselves are attacked and devoured. This specially designed fence would keep out the feral animals. Jeff hired a guy from New Zealand to oversee this project.

We passed by the fence, made our way to the Point and had a little picnic as we watched waves crash against the rocks where monk seals slept in the sun and albatrosses soared and dipped through the skies.

We could also see storm clouds heading our way across the ocean. We decided that we’d better head back. The rain started light at first but soon began pouring.

We approached the predator fence as the workmen were packing up their pickup truck. One of them was the New Zealander that Jeff hired so they offered us a ride. Cindy and Rose could ride in the double cab with the four guys but Jeff and I would have to ride in the bed.

Unfortunately, as we hopped into the bed, we found that it was filled with material—tool chest, coolers, a ladder, a can of gasoline and various other items that took up pretty much all the room.The New Zealander also gave us about 45 seconds to get situated before he took off.

Jeff was able to cram himself down against the right wheel well with a ladder pointed at his groin while I had to settle for sitting on top of a cooler with one hand on the cooler handle and the other trying to grip the edge of the slick truck bed.

beatlesgetbacksiergeyNo, that’s a different get back…

 

 

The terrain we had to travel over was a washed out road, not fit for vehicles.  It was basically a series of deep, chasm-like ruts, which were now filled with water, surrounded by rocks. The going could not be any other way but slow.

Slow like a Tilt-a-Whirl ride. We were jostled and bucked back and forth every which way as the truck dipped and tipped making its way through this No Man’s Land of endless crevasses and pits. We held on for dear life.

Finally, the truck hit a rift that literally sent me airborne. I flew from one side of the truck bed to the other.  For a split second I thought I would go over the side. I was looking straight down at the rocks and mud below.

Jeff reached up to abort my flight and I landed inside the truck. Unfortunately, I landed on my tailbone on the edge of the tailgate. (Ironic, no?) From there I caromed off and ended up next to the can of gasoline.  I could sense the stream of cartoon stars emanating from my backside.

Two thoughts bounced through my head. One was how badly I may have been injured. The second was how soon I could get off of the goddamn truck.

As “luck” would have it, the rain stopped and so did the truck. Our driver couldn’t continue any further because there was another vehicle stuck in the mud blocking his way.

I immediately, albeit slowly, hopped out onto dear old, beautiful terra firma. The others in our group followed suit. My injury turned out not to be as bad as it felt.

As long as I was moving I was okay so walking would be no problem. Getting in and out of cars or into and out of sitting positions, however, I found I had to do in stages like one of those folding rulers, an inch at a time.

By the end of our trip, I hardly noticed my bruised tailbone at all. I was feeling pretty good. Then I got home to find snow that needed shoveling.

There were those stars again.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Waldo & Emerson Do Skype

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